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Alaska Slang and Terms to Know

Alaska is a unique place with unique vocabulary. Words derived from Native culture, as well as regional colloquialisms, are not uncommon and have been known to cause confusion to the unprepared visitor. Study up on your Alaska vocabulary and you might just be able to convince the sourdoughs that you’re not a cheechako after all!

breakup – Alaska’s version of spring, when the weather gets warmer and the snow begins to melt. Not the peak visiting season but a sure sign that summer is on the horizon!

cheechako – A newcomer to Alaska or the Yukon. The term originally referred to Gold Rush newcomers; also used to refer to someone who has never spent a winter in Alaska.

Homer Spit – A narrow, five-mile stretch of land extending into Kachemak Bay and a popular destination for both tourists and locals. The Spit boasts amazing restaurants, the famous Salty Dawg Saloon, a harbor and some of the best views in the state.

kuspuk – A traditional Alaska Native overshirt or parka cover with long sleeves, a hood and front pockets. Kuspuks usually fall just above the knees and are worn by both men and women.

Lower 48 – The 48 contiguous states that make up the continental U.S.

PFD – The permanent fund dividend, an annual payment to Alaska residents who have lived in the state for at least one calendar year. The funds come from a state savings account created by an amendment in the Alaska Constitution that requires a percentage of Alaska’s royalties from oil to be set aside, with the interest earnings available for spending, including the yearly dividend payouts.

nanook – The Inuit word for polar bear; also the mascot of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Outside – Refers to anywhere outside of Alaska. Don’t worry – it’s generally pretty easy to distinguish between someone saying they’re going outside to get the mail and they’re going Outside for a tropical vacation.

sourdough – A longtime Alaskan. The term derived from the sourdough starter mix that early Alaskan pioneers carried with them to lighten breads and hotcakes.

termination dust – The first dusting of snow on the mountains in the early fall indicating that winter weather is likely just around the corner.

The Bush – Anywhere in Alaska not connected to the road or Alaska state ferry system.

ulu – A traditional Alaska Native all-purpose knife and a popular souvenir.

Xtratufs – Popular with fishermen and most other Alaskans, Xtratufs are a sturdy brown rubber boot designed to withstand the elements. They are also a staple of Alaska fashion in many places.

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